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Food For The Fourth 

A revolutionary idea -- cook it yourself

When I was growing up, the Fourth of July was the day my dad made his family-famous barbecue sauce and spent the day alternately basting the pork shoulder on the grill's rotisserie and shooting off fireworks. We kids, meanwhile, took turns hand-cranking the peach ice cream while vigorously complaining that he should invest in an electric ice cream maker. "Nonsense," my dad would say. "This is a family tradition."

Dad, I guess, didn't know that food for the Fourth can be traditional without being arduous. On Independence Day, the backyard grill reigns. Traditionally this holiday's foods include dogs and burgers, potato salad, and baked beans, but it's also become the holiday to grill just about anything, including pizza.

One spot to pick up your meats for the Fourth is Reid's Uptown Market, 225 E. 6th Street (704-377-1312). Bucky Frick, the Meat Manager, grinds meat daily. Frick said, "We sell a lot of hamburger for the Fourth. We do a mushroom and sun-dried tomato patty with Romano cheese, a blue cheese patty with blacken seasoning, and a bacon with four cheese patty -- cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and parmesan. Those have been very popular and sell for $3.99 per pound. We also have a North Carolina-styled barbecue with Boston Butt and a Lexington sauce as well as a beef brisket for those who prefer Texas barbecue. The brisket is marinated and slow roasted in the oven and then can be finished on the grill."

Also popular at Reid's is their full line of steaks, baby back ribs, Reid's house-made Italian sausage and house-made bratwurst. On the pricier side are the whole beef tenderloins, currently $19.95 a pound, fully trimmed. On average four pounds serves four to five people. Reid's also offers a full line of marinated chicken breasts. Frick said, "We trim them up and run them through a cuber so they cook quicker. We use six different marinades." These chicken breasts cost $5.99 pound.

One of the most popular seafoods to grill is salmon and right now wild salmon is in season. "Wild salmon has a richer flavor than farm-raised," Frick noted.

What does the Frick grill on the Fourth? "We're so busy leading up to the Fourth that on that day we will just lay on the coach and eat baloney sandwiches."

The meat department at the Fresh Market (locations throughout Charlotte) is another good choice to buy burgers for the grill since they also grind their meat in-house daily. In addition to beef ground round, round chuck, and ground sirloin, Meat Manager Alexander Bludov noted that turkey and meatloaf mix is also ground fresh daily. Plus, the Fresh Market offers in-house made kielbasas and bratwurst for grilling.

At Talley's Green Grocer (1408 East Blvd., 704-334-9200) the meat department grinds sirloin, top round, and chuck daily. Lamb is ground fresh every two or three days. Steaks are cut to order and Talley's carries a line of organic grain-fed beef. Talley's also makes an Italian sausage.

For those more adventurous or those not on a low-carb diet, grilling pizzas is a fun dinner for folks of all ages. Pizza dough isn't as hard to make as it looks. If you have a food processor and a recipe, pizza dough is a mere flick of the switch. Do not use southern, or soft wheat flours, such as White Lily, however, since these flours have different protein content and are better suited for biscuits, pastries, and pie crusts. Use an unbleached flour such as King Arthur. If you make your own, the dough should be slightly wetter than the dough for an oven-baked pizza.

If you are truly challenged in the kitchen, go to your favorite pizzeria and ask them if you can buy some dough or buy pre-made pizza crusts. If you're using a frozen pizza, leave the dough in the freezer until the grill is ready. Stretch and hand shape the pizza crusts into medium-thin thickness crusts. Do not roll out. An oval shape, rather than a circle, is easier to handle. Layer the crusts between parchment paper. Before placing on grill, remove each crust from the paper and then liberally brush each crust with olive oil. Cook the pizza crusts over medium heat on your grill until the underside is crisp. Pizzas cooked on a grill do not take long, so you will need to watch the crusts closely. Then flip the crust and add the toppings, which should be pre-cooked, and preheated sauces.

For this Fourth try one of these combinations: sliced grilled spicy Italian sausages from one of the markets mentioned above with grilled locally grown red peppers, thin slices of grilled Vidalia onions, and goat cheese; or grilled chicken breasts with barbecue sauce and jack cheese; or a simple basil pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella and locally grown tomatoes; or a south of the border pizza with baby shrimp, avocado slices, and grated queso fresco.

After dinner, watermelon remains the favorite dessert of the Fourth and locally grown melons from Pageland, SC, will be available at area farmers' markets. Pageland has held a Watermelon Festival on the third weekend of July since 1951. This year's festivities will be held July 16 through 18. For more information: http://www.pagelandchamber.com/ 04festival.html.

Eaters' Digest

For those who celebrate another red, white, and blue day, Bistro 100, in Founders Hall downtown, will honor Bastille Day with a decadent week-long menu from July 12 through July 18, as well as hosting a special event on Bastille Day, Wednesday, July 14. The prix fixe menu by French trained Executive Chef Mickael Blais will include an entree choice of "Braised Rabbit with Olives and Fresh Pasta" or "Bouillabaisse from Marseille." Cost is $39.95 per person. 704-344-0515.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

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